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The Real Cost of Social Media: Privacy

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  • Tip Bones

It's no secret that privacy online is getting harder to come by. With the constantly shifting legal minutiae and privacy settings on any given site, and questionable ownership of some apps and networks, it's a huge gamble to put any part of your life online. With a VPN and a little common sense, though, you probably already know that you can combat the problem.

But how is the site itself spying on you, and why should you care?

Digital advertising is a huge market, and you, the consumer, are a commodity. Specifically, your data is collected by a site and sold to advertisers. Search in the terms of service for any social network and it's very clear that your information can and will be sold to third parties. After all, it's how these websites make their money, because there is no membership fee. Not surprising so far, right?

But unfortunately, you aren't even protected if you avoid clicking ads.

More often, what you don't interact with online is very telling for these advertisers. Let's say you see an ad for a burger chain restaurant on Twitter. You're kind of hungry, but far too smart to click that ad. Scrolling by the ad tells the site that either you aren't interested, and they should send different targeted ads, or that it will take time to see if you're susceptible to the campaign.

But who cares? It's just data, and you'll buy what you're going to buy anyway, right? The pressure from advertising can be subtle, but it's not the influence that's the most worrying. Over all of your networks, a full profile of your likes, dislikes, sexuality, professional interests, family, political opinions, and every single aspect of your life gets recorded. The concern is that there is a very vague line between what is identifiable information for advertisers, such as your address and financial records, and information that you agreed to sell. And there isn't always a clear expectation set out to find what information is being shared, so it's difficult to protect yourself.

So always explore all of your privacy settings, and turn off third party sharing when possible. Get a VPN to help block your identity, and never share anything too personal online. Stay safe!